The Scene

Traditions, culture of food explored at DeKalb County History Center’s new exhibit

The exhibit, “Food: Gathering Around the Table," opens June 1, 2024 at the DeKalb County History Center in Sycamore.

We all love food, and the DeKalb County History Center presents a new exhibition about the history and traditions surrounding our food and meals.

“Food: Gathering Around the Table” will open with a grand reception from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 1, at the DeKalb County History Center, 1730 N. Main St., Sycamore.

According to the DeKalb County History Center, the exhibit will explore natural resources, local food traditions, food technology and food as an autobiography. Because food traditions are diverse and evolving, the intersection of American culture is an important factor in American food, the history’s website states.

Michelle Donahoe, executive director of the DeKalb County History Center, said she and her team have been working for more than a year to research, identify photos and objects, and conduct interviews with residents for the exhibit.

There are five main sections to the exhibit. The first is “Land of Plenty,” which focuses on Native American food traditions, hunting and gathering, local farming and food insecurity; “Local in Locale” presents stories about area restaurants, festivals and more; “Dynamic Delivery” shares information about food and its relationship to technology and local businesses; “Home Cooking” showcases historical cookbooks, old kitchen utensils and fine china that was used for special occasions. The fifth section is a hands-on activity area for kids.

“The display really has something for everyone – young, old, current residents and those from out of town,” Donahoe said. “I think it really shows how food brings us together. Food has unrivaled power to connect people with place, to create an identity for a community or region, and to plant an enduring memory for people passing through.”

The history center collaborated on the exhibit with the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, which helped provide the framework. Donahoe and her staff worked to find the local stories to complement those themes.

“‘Food’ was a national competition directed by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street team in Washington, D.C., and we were very honored to be selected,” she said. “Their input on the exhibit, programs and outreach has made this one of the most engaging displays ever.”

Donahoe understands that not everyone is interested in local history, but said that everyone loves food, and the exhibit will appeal to folks from all over the area, not just DeKalb County residents.

“Food can be an adventure when you try something new, it can be comforting when you enjoy a traditional favorite, it can energize when [you] eat something you have grown, and it can be a way to rally our community to bring support to that special cause,” she said. “In other words, this exhibit is about history, but it presents it in a fun and creative way. There is really something for everyone.”

The exhibit will run for about two years, Donahoe said. The history center also received a grant from Illinois Humanities to host a podcast about food, and more details are expected to be released in coming months, she said.

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Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows is the editor of The Scene, Shaw Local News Network's entertainment section. The Scene is your go-to destination for all things fun in Northern Illinois. Prior to The Scene, Aimee was the editor of the Kane County Chronicle for five years, and a freelance reporter for Shaw Media for four years.